The title of the exhibition in Gallery Forum Box in Helsinki (11.2.-6.3.2022) alludes to the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees that it is part of. Besides the “balcony” (parvi) the exhibition comprises the small Mediabox where you can show one work, in this case Dear Deceased (6 min 26 sec), see image above, a letter to a dead spruce written in English and added as a voice-over. The work is now in the AV-archive as well, here. The main work in the exhibition is Day with Old Tjikko 1 (17 min 45 sec), performed and recorded in May 2019 with the ancient spruce tree on Fulufjället mountain in Dalarna, Sweden. All the other works, including the one in Mediaboxi, were made in September 2020 during a one month Mustarinda residency in Hyrynsalmi, northeastern Finland.
More information about the exhibition here, and later on in the archive, here. Information about the work in Mediabox here, and later in the archive here. The following images from the exhibition are photographed by Emilia Pennanen:
It’s time to begin something new, although I will be occupied with the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees for a while
– some works will for example be shown in a group exhibition in gallery Forum Box in February, and I hope there will be more possibilities to show the video works I have made together with various trees. And the new is not really new, but rather a narrowing of focus; I began with plants, zoomed in on trees and will now concentrate on pines. The project is called (at least sofar) Pondering with Pines – Miettii Mäntyjen kanssa – Tänker med Tallar. I began with the Swedish title, which was first talking with trees, which was too limited, and is now thinking with trees, which sounds a little too demanding. I guess pondering is demanding too, but I wanted to have an alliteration in all languages.
The first pine tree that I will practice with this year, ponder with but also pose in the tree pose from taiji with, is a tall and handsome pine growing in Kaivopuisto Park, in the centre of the slope which now serves as a sledding hill. The following two images I took with my phone as documentation or field notes – the two last ones are stills from the video of the very first session today.
The first week of my one-month residency in Eckerö Post and Customs House on Åland Islands has been dominated by the Constellate event that replaces the PSi (Performance Studies international) conference this year, or rather the three day online symposium or workshop or gathering called Perform-Respond-Extend, organised by the Artistic Research Working Group. Exhausting and inspiring, and actually hard work, but, I am also very happy, because I managed to make two real videos as part of the assignments of the event. I made both of them together with the same ash tree near ”postbryggan”, the old pier.
The first video was made as a response to Danai Theodoridou’s work Languages of the Unheard, and is called On Vegetal Democracy. There I recycle parts of an old text published in Ruukku journal already in 2015, but otherwise the approach is new to me. The second video is using a familiar technique, writing a letter to the same ash tree, and was made as an extension of Göze Saner’s response to the presentation by Caitlin Main, dealing with trauma. That video is called The Ash Tree in Eckerö, and the text is written and spoken in Swedish, with English subtitles. Although both works were made as exercises or comments and as part of collaborative work, I am happy with them as independent works in their own right, especially after making an adjustment to the subtitles of the latter. And the brief mention of the material they are responding to does not prevent them from being seen independently. They are both available to watch online here. Because the two videos with the ash tree are ready to watch now, they feel much more like real accomplishments than my ongoing work. Time will show if they will feel relevant or not later on.
My main task on Eckerö, so far, are the two time lapse videos I am creating by posing daily with a maple tree in the yard and with an apple tree in front of the building. But those exercises will produce some results only at the end of my stay. These ongoing daily meetings are documented as still images, here. In any case I am enjoying my stay at the newly renovated residency and cherishing the spacious setting and the historical environment.
The two first months of the year I have spent a moment daily with the pines on Skifferholmen or Liuskasaari, an island connected to Uunisaari with a jetty or breakwater, and thus accessible during the winter months. When I began I did not imagine there would be ice so I could actually have walked to Harakka Island. Well, today I would not like to walk across on the ice any longer, because there is so much water on the ice, but some people still do. Today is the last day of February, so I will finish this practice. And I have not visited the pines daily, strictly speaking, because I have spent one week in Örö in the beginning of January and another week now at the end of February. (See the blog posts “Pines on Örö Again” and “New Pines on Örö”) There I have another pine tree, the pine next door, which I visit and hold on to for a moment every day, while there. The first tree on Skifferholmen I was holding on to as well, as described in “The Pine on Skifferholmen” See the first image from January above, and the last image of January, below.
I soon discovered, however, that I missed the ‘becoming tree’ balancing exercise and switched to that with the second pine, in February. See the blog post “Another Pine on Skifferholmen” The image with the second pine from the 1 February below shows me posing next to the pine in a familiar manner,
And also in the last image of February, where the sun creates a fantastic colour display:
These visits are all part of my ongoing project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees, which has a project blog of its own, and an archive on the Research Catalogue, called “Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees” as well. The visits to the pines on Skifferholmen are all documented with still-images on one page in that archive, called, unsurprisingly “The Pines on Skifferholmen” You are very welcome to follow or look at any or all of them…
The adventure begins with a bus from Helsinki to Salo and then Dalsbruk or Taalintehdas. I am going to spend the month of November in residency on Örö, or Öres. The day is grey, dark and gloomy as befits the first day of November. There will be heavy wind tonight; I hope we will get to Örö, the Ear Island, before nightfall. It is windy already, but at night it is even more scary. Luckily I don’t think there is big open water to cross before Örö, but I do not know for sure, I have never been anywhere near. My neighbor for the coming month is a Spanish guy who is on the same bus. It is good to know that I am not completely alone in the house or on the island. There are various caretakers and entrepeneurs living there, and the whole island is only approximately 2 km. I already see myself walking back snd forth on the paths several times a day.
The change of bus in Salo was easy, and in Dalsbruk we easily found the square and the shop where the taxi was to pick us up. He drove us to Kasnäs, down to the harbour, and reassured us that so far not a single case of covid has been discovered in the whole of Kimito. The boat ride was not as bumpy as I expected, the taxi boat was quite big and sturdy, and we arrived on Örö well before nightfall.
By the time we had walked with our carriages across the island and past the residency house to begin with, it was already dark. On the way I saw several interesting looking trees and there are some handsom pine trees right next to the house – something to look at tomorrow…
During my residency in Mustarinda, in September 2020, I have met many trees and performed with some of them in various ways. Only at the end of my stay did I try to write a letter to a spruce, a practice I have experimented with elsewhere. I wrote a small letter to a spruce, in Finnish, and made a video with the text as a voice-over – both the longer version without text Dear Spruce (20 min 15 sec) and the brief version with the spoken text added, Rakas Kuusi (5 min 47 sec) are available on the Research Catalogue, here. (And the text, in Finnish, I added to a blog post, here.) Inspired by this experience I decided, on the last day of my stay in Mustarinda, to go and visit a dead spruce lying on the ground next to the path that I remembered seeing several times while walking there, and decided to try to address the spruce cadaver in English. The full-length video Dear Deceased (20 min 15 sec) and a shorter version with the text added as a spoken voice-over Dear Deceased (with text) (6 min 26 sec) are both available on the Research Catalogue, here. And the text itself, uncensored, can be read here below.
dear deceased or departed, or whatever is the proper term for a respected and beloved dead being – because there is no doubt that you are dead, dead as a spruce, that is. Your body, broken and now separated from the roots, lies on the ground dry and dead like a skeleton, except that you are steaming with life of all forms – insects, fungi, larvae, lichen, microbes, and all the things that I cannot see. And who knows what mice or other furry creatures have nests further up in your former crown? You are clearly serving your community also while dead. I am not sure how you decide whether a tree is dead or not, because some trees are able to grow new roots from their trunk, or at least new branches to form new trunks growing from a trunk fallen on the ground. Perhaps that is not possible for spruces, though. I have never seen one on any of the spruce cadavers, and there are plenty of them in this forest. On the other hand, your roots seem intact, everything below ground, although invisible to me, could be alive, and simply waiting for the right moment to throw some green needles up in the air. Well, deciduous trees are doing that, creating a whole selection of new stems and young trees from the cropped stump, but again probably not the spruces, I’m afraid. And it looks like your wood has been quite thoroughly eaten by insects, perhaps before you even fell to the ground – that could have been one of the reasons that you fell in the first place. Usually the spruces around here seem to fall with their roots open, like losing their grip of the ground in a storm. But you are really broken midway, at the waist, well, at knee height, or wrists would probably be closer, if we use human measurements. – I was attracted to you at first by the huge mushrooms that grow like small parasols from your stump, and then by the intricate forms of your almost bare branches that spread out from the trunk on the ground. Sitting on a corpse, on a cadaver, is morbid of course; and thinking of you as a rotting heap of life, all kinds of creatures busily trying to decompose you to minerals and nutrients, like a giant compost, does not make sitting here more pleasant. In actual fact your trunk seems rather steady and comfortable to sit on, not that different from a wooden bench, despite your rounded form and the slightly irregular, itchy bark. There is a small ant nest (small compared to the giant ones all around here) right at my feet – hopefully they are not disturbed by me, planning a defence attack. The sun is still warm, and it is very quiet, no wind. I wonder how man winters you have already been lying here, not that many, I suppose, but that is hard to know. There is no moss growing on top of you, but that might be simply because your branches keep you raised from the ground. And how many years will it take for you to decompose completely and turn into soil? In some places here you can still see the contours of a tree trunk in the moss, although most of the wood is gone and the moss cover is continuous. You are fertilizing the soil, I guess, whereas a human body decomposing on the ground would excrete poisonous substances, at least that is what I have heard. There is something fascinating in wood being such a living material, although it is clearly part of a dead tree, or a formerly living tree. I imagined I would sit here and think about death and dying, and the value of being able to witness the processes of decay instead of being protected from all such “unpleasant details” by an overly hygienic and artificially maintained almost sterile environment. But instead I am thinking of wood and what a marvellous material it is. – I apologize for disturbing your well-earned rest here in the forest with such human-centred and utilitarian thoughts. And, on the other hand I have to thank you for your generosity, because I like to think that you gave me those thoughts here, in some manner. Thus, many thanks for this moment on your beautiful trunk, and all the best for the coming winter!
Video works in The Telegraph on Harakka Island 15–26 July 2020, noon to 5 pm.
Welcome to the opening on Monday 14 July at 4-6 pm.
The following works are included in the exhibition:
With Elms in Kaivopuisto 1 & 2 (2018)
In 2017, between 10.1. and 17.12., I visited a group of elms in Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki altogether 101 times. I video recorded and edited these visits into a two-channel installation (1h 41 min 10 sec.), with one-minute images of each visit, here combined as a split-screen version.
With an Alder in Kaivopuisto (2018)
In 2017, between 12.1. and 17.12., I sat on an alder stub in Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki altogether 100 times. I video recorded and edited these sessions into a video (1h 40 min 10 sec) with one-minute images of each session.
With the Maple Tree (Corona Diary) (2020)
During the spring 2020, between 29.3. and 31.5., I performed daily for a video camera with a maple tree in the yard of Tehtaankatu 18 in Helsinki, and edited the performances into a diary of sorts (62 min 22 sec).
The works are linked to the projects Performing with Plants and Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable Trees
Today I started a new work, a performance with Itsenäisyyden kuusi, the Spruce of Independence, in Kaivopuisto Park. I notised it for the first time a few weeks ago, which in itself is absurd, because I have been walking around in the Park since the 1970’s, but never really payed attention to it, perhaps because it stands in a strange corner of the park, near the entrance to the restaurant. I no longer remember what made me look it up on the internet, but when I saw that it grows in my neighbourhood I decided I would do something with it, as part of the project Meetings with Remarkable and Unremarkable trees. This one surely is remarkable, planted of a seed put in the ground at the time of the declaration of Finnish independence in 1917 and planted on site in the 1930s.
Wikipedia describes the spruce like this (in Finnish).
It is a controversial tree, I suppose, with the strange monument next to it, but it was celebrated in 1967 when lots of small spruces grown from its seeds were distributed around the country, and again during the centennary in 2017.
My first idea was to sit and write letters to it somewhere nearby, as I have done with the spruce on Harakka Island, not so far from there. I knew I could not get the whole spruce in one image, so I considered the possibility of making two versions, one from afar, with the spruce visible between other trees, and another version with me and its lower branches, or something. Only when I finished my Corona Diary, my daily balancing act with the maple in the yard in the house where I live, on the last of May, did I realize what I would do. Rather than write to the Spruce of Independence or hold on to it or what not, I would sinply transpose my balancing act to take place next to the spruce, not necessarily every day, but regularly during the summer or June at least, now when I am in Helsinki anyway. And that is exactly what I did today. Choosing the position of the camera and the framing of the image was not so easy, and I am not very happy with my decision, but it seemed the best solution at least today. The image will look very different when the shadow of the tree falls differently, but that remains to be seen. I chose my position in the shadow based on the circumstances today. What happens next is something else.
Hare are some images from today:
And one from last week (or the week before) when I walked by with my phone:
When returning from my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency in Johannesburg, earlier than planned due to the covid-19 outbreak and all the restrictions related to it, I had to stay in quarantine at home for 14 days. In the B&B where I stayed there, I performed more or less daily with the huge Irish oak in the yard (see blog post), and even edited a small video of that practice, available here. After a week or so at home I realized I could continue with a similar practice together with the maple tree in the yard here in Helsinki. And I have continued with that, even though my personal quarantine is over. The general restrictions, and the quarantine of the whole Uusimaa region continues, however, and prevents me from going to Stockholm, for instance, if I would like to – and I am not at all sure that I would, right now.
So what is the practice? I stand for a moment with the maple tree, mostly in the mornings, trying to balance on my toes with arms stretched towards the sky, an exercise called becoming a tree, and call it my Corona diary. The diary is archived as still images on the RC here
I have not decided how long I will continue, now that I can meet other trees as well, like the unremarkable pine in Brunnsparken that serves as a kind of pen pal, like the small pine on Hundudden that I miss and cannot meet now, at least not for a while. I also paid a visit the Spruce of Harakka Island, remarkable because it is the only spruce tree on the island, and decided to visit it every now and then. The maple in the yard is perhaps not so interesting in itself, it functions more like a companion for my practice of balancing. But I do like to see its new leaves burst forth with the spring. Perhaps they will make the diary more interesting…
Johannesburg is a city of trees, and the largest manmade forest in the world, they say. (Well, they should see the Finnish spruce-or pine-plantations.) Now, when one week has passed since I arrived here, it is appropriate to report what I have been doing, in terms of meeting trees. During my ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency between 10 February and 10 April I am supposed to work on my project Meetings with remarkable and unremarkable trees. I am spoiled for choice, that is clear; Galway Road in the suburb called Parkview where I am based is lined with the famous Jacaranda trees. I decided to “dig where I stand” (no, not literally) and begin with the nearest tree, the old oak growing in the yard of the bed and breakfast where I stay. It is fenced in here behind protective walls, but reaches out beyond them, and drops its acorns on the tin roof every now and then. The first night I thought somebody was throwing stones. My landlady told me that it is an Irish oak, in all likelihood. The whole area has streets with Irish names, because the man who started building there came from Ireland at the end of 19th century. He also planted Irish oaks on his estate, and this oak is supposed to be one of the “leftovers”, or then a descendant. From the balcony of the house it looks very inviting, and would probably be possible to sit in, at least in theory. But I chose not to try.
My way of performing with the oak is simple; I happened to see a small text in a yoga journal at home before leaving, titled “kuinka sinusta voi tulla puu” (How you can become a tree). It describes an exercise which I wanted to try here. And to do that regularly, ideally every day, it would be easiest to find a place nearby. The exercise is basic: stand with your feet hip-width apart, raise you heels, stretch your arms up, focus your eyes on one spot and stay there – that’s it. For the sake of editing I changed the order slightly: I go to stand next to the oak, stretch my arms up and then raise my heels, and leave my arms up even when I loose my balance and have to take a step forward. Hopefully the duration I am able to stand there will increase over the weeks.
What I did not realise was the fact that my stage is a parking lot; it is empty only during working days when the car that is normally parked there is away. Therefore, no images during the weekend.